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The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald
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The Moving Target (1949)

by Ross Macdonald

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
After having read that Ross Macdonald was alleged to write hard-boiled, noir, detective fiction as well as Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett, I had to check him out. The first book was indeed good, but my kindle access to Ross Macdonald was limited. No copies in my own library and only a couple at the Boston Public Library. But, it seems that the Woburn Public Library has a much larger selection of Macdonald titles. So, of course, I had to get me a library card to the Woburn Public Library. I could easily do that on my way home from a visit to my friendly audiologist. And so I did. This is the first of the Macdonald titles I checked out from them.

This is, naturally, a convoluted tale. An oil tycoon, Ralph Sampson, goes missing. His wife is worried about his drinking, gambling, and womanizing, but wants him back, if only to make sure she outlives him before his fortune disappears. She calls in Lew Archer to find the man. On his way in to meet with the woman, to get more details, Archer first meets Alan Taggert, the family pilot, and Sampson's delectable daughter, Miranda. Miranda, it seems has designs on Taggert. Sometimes, Taggert plays along, but other times he makes it clear he is uninterested.

So, it seems that Taggert flew Sampson from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, or environs. Sampson was drunk as a lord by the time they got to the airport. By the time Taggert had put the plane to bed, Sampson had disappeared. The limousine called to pick him up got a later call telling them not to bother. So who had picked up Sampson, and where did he go? That's Archer's problem in a nut shell. Well, a few days later, they get a ransom note, written in Sampson's handwriting. That rather escalates the problem, how to pay the ransom, while still getting Sampson back alive?

So, we wander into The Wild Piano, a bar which Sampson sometimes frequented. He'd been seen there recently with an over-the-hill Hollywood actress, Fay Estabrook. The bar features a torch singer, Betty Fraley, who also seems to have palled with Sampson. We run into a "religious mystic" who has a mountain top refuge, donated, it seems by Sampson, but the guy is pretty clearly a fraud and is doing something not-so-kosher on the side. Then there's Archer's old pal from his days working for the DA, Albert Graves, who left the DA office to become the family lawyer. Graves has a mad crush on Miranda, which means he has no love for Taggert.

I dunno, there's lots of other stuff going on, floozies and mashers, gun men and dead bodies, all the good stuff of noir fiction. It's quite well written. Based on my limited sample of two, I'd say Ross Macdonald is close to Raymond Chandler in the quality of his writing, a quality well above that of Dashiell Hammett (not difficult, Hammett had great plot lines, but wooden prose). I foresee much more Macdonald in my future, thanks to my new library card. Who knew there was anything good one could say about Woburn?
( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
The Moving Target is one of the earliest works by famed crime- writer Ross MacDonald. Published in 1949, it is also the first in his Lew Archer series of 18 novels, works that made up the bulk of his fiction. This novel formed the basis for the 1966 film Harper starring Paul Newman.

I listened to this book in audio format, via an unabridged 2001 work narrated by Grover Gardner. It is set in southern California in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, in the post- World War II period. Detective Lew Archer is hired by the wife of a eccentric oil tycoon to find her missing husband, Ralph Samson. Samson has been kidnapped, and Archer tries to find him while investigating who is behind the crime. Elaine, the wife, is a paraplegic who mainly wants to locate Ralph before he gives away the money she plans to inherit.

In his search, Archer moves through a strange cast of characters, including a faded actress with a penchant for drink; a bogus sun- worshipping holy man to whom Samson has given a private mountain retreat; a lounge singer with a drug habit; and Samson's spoiled and seductive step-daughter who is in a love triangle with her father's pilot and his attorney. There are family secrets as well as lust, greed, jealousy, manipulation, and murder. The revelation of who is behind the kidnapping comes as a surprise, as do other aspects of the ending.

Having seen the film version before listening to the audio book did not harm the latter experience. In fact it may have helped; seeing the movie characters in my mind made it easier to follow the plot (over a period of many days in daily commutes).

Fans of Raymond Chandler and of noir detective novels won't want to miss this classic work. As enjoyable as the audio version is, the print version is better suited to allowing the reader to savor, save, and reread the most memorable lines. ( )
  danielx | Oct 18, 2018 |
A bit more hardboiled than my typical fare - I can see why people refer to Ross MacDonald as the successor to Raymond Chandler. Grover Gardner is in his usual excellent form doing the narration. ( )
  leslie.98 | Sep 14, 2016 |
I read this book a number of years ago and couldn't resist the temptation to read it again. Ross MacDonald's private investigator Lew Archer crime novels are a real treat. This one is about greed, which sends Archer on a case of kidnapping, family hatred, and murder. I have many more Lew Archer books and will be rereading them. ( )
  phillipfrey | Mar 10, 2014 |
This is the very first mystery from the excellent Lew Archer series by Ross MacDonald. It lives up to the hype! ( )
  Condorena | Apr 2, 2013 |
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The cab turned off U.S. 101 in the direction of the sea.
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The Moving Target was republished in 1966 under the title Harper, when the movie adaptation was released under that name.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037570146X, Paperback)

Like many Southern California millionaires, Ralph Sampson keeps odd company. There's the sun-worshipping holy man whom Sampson once gave his very own mountain; the fading actress with sidelines in astrology and S&M. Now one of Sampson's friends may have arranged his kidnapping.

As Lew Archer follows the clues from the canyon sanctuaries of the megarich to jazz joints where you get beaten up between sets, The Moving Target blends sex, greed, and family hatred into an explosively readable crime novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:33 -0400)

As Lew Archer investigates the kidnapping of Southern California millionaire Ralph Sampson, he is drawn from the canyon sanctuaries of the megarich to the casual violence of seedy jazz joints.

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